So the other day, Kotaku posted an article giving FF fans a ready made list of why their chosen FF is the best, and I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “I haven’t mindlessly copied enough people lately, why don’t I do that too?” Only, as an extra twist, I will not only give arguments as to why each of the main sequence FFs is the best, I will also explain why that game is also undoubtedly the worst.
Why it’s the best: Without the original Final Fantasy, this franchise wouldn’t even exist! As the ancestor of all FF games, good or bad, doesn’t it therefore deserve its respect? Also, no one can accuse it of being overcomplicated, so shouldn’t we credit it with an elegant simplicity that doesn’t overcomplicate matters. Also, the PSP remake has really cute graphics.
Why it’s the worst: Have you seen how simple the game is? I mean, you’re just four generic guys who wander into a castle, the King asks if you’re the Warriors of Light, and that’s it, you’re off on some generic destined quest that lasts ten hours at best! Of course you can extend the gameplay time with some optional dungeons, but do you really want to get kicked out each time you defeat a boss at the bottom of the dungeon, and have to fight your way back down three more times to defeat the remaining bosses? Whose idea of fun is that exactly?
Final Fantasy II
Why it’s the best: It dared to be different, with some new game mechanics. No more plain experience points for standing around, now it was all about practice, practice, practice if you wanted to improve those skills. Also, it introduced chocobos, and who doesn’t love chocobos? (If you answered yes to that question, leave at once. We cannot be friends).
Why it’s the worst: It tried to be different, with some new game mechanics. People soon realised how to game the system by attacking their own party members.
Final Fantasy III
Why it’s the best: It provided the template for the job system in all future Final Fantasy games. No longer was it just about brawny warriors and robed mages; now dragoons, geomancers, bards (spoony or otherwise) and summoners joined the ranks of Final Fantasy occupations, and would remain there for many years to come. Not to mention the immortalisation of the “Onion Knight”.
Why it’s the worst: There are no save points in dungeons! When you add this to the generally higher difficulty of old school NES games, then you can quite often find yourself screwed. Take for example the ending of the game, where you fight your way through a dungeon, battle a boss, and then immediately get sent to the world beyond to face Cloud of Darkness with nary a chance to rest, recuperate and save your game. If you get game over in the final boss battle, that’s two or more hours of gameplay, nay, of your life, gone forever!
Final Fantasy IV
Why it’s the best: With a more epic story than anything that had come before, FFIV represented a new dedication to plot that would resonate down through the series for years to come. Here were complex and memorable characters struggling with the fine line between good and evil, hand in hand with legendary moments of humour such as “You spoony bard!”. Here was a journey that was about more than just rushing from crystal to crystal (although crystals were still important), an immersive experience that went beyond the simple stories of its predecessors.
Why it’s the worst: That being said, there’s a few too many cop outs later on in the game. After so many dramatic moments of characters apparently dying or turning to stone, by the end most of them were saved by some contrivance or another. Oh, and don’t worry that all the crystals have been lost, because if you go to the previously unmentioned World of Darkness, you’ll find a whole new set!
Final Fantasy V
Why it’s the best: It may be about yet more crystals and such, but FFV definitely has a sense of humour. Here we have characters who aren’t always brooding and moody, but instead aren’t afraid to rib each other – and what characters at that! How many other games have an awesome pirate trap like Faris? And this is all before mentioning the extra spin FFV puts on the job system, allowing you to carry over commands learned from another job into your current one for greater flexibility.
Why it’s the worst: Sandwiched between two epics like IV and VI, FFV just feels little tedious and lacklustre, a bit of a slog, if you will. There’s nothing there to keep you glued to the screen, and it’s all too easy to get distracted from the game, which probably explains why I’ve repeatedly had to keep restarting it on different platforms over the years.
Final Fantasy VI
Why it’s the best: FF6 finally threw out the tired old “search for the magical crystals and then watch as they shatter/get stolen” model in favour of a completely different story with a proper ensemble cast. Who can forget the struggles of our heroes against the insane clown Kefka, not to mention their own inner conflicts? Then there was the battle system, that let characters keep their individuality with unique job commands, but also let them eventually learn all types of magic by equipping the right Espers.
Why it’s the worst: Well, apart from the fact that parts of the game were broken (although this was advantageous to the player since it meant the Blind status effect was essentially worthless), why did the developers think it was a good idea to introduce extra challenge with an area like the Fanatic’s Tower? Having built up your awesome, ultimate team, how annoying to only be able to use magic (Gau and Umaro excepted)! I will never forget the pain of that dungeon.
Final Fantasy VII
Why it’s the best: How many of us started our Final Fantasy experience with FFVII on the Playstation? I know I did, and it was an eye opener into the wonderful world of JRPGs. Here is a game that’s dripping with nostalgia and iconic images, from Cloud’s oversized swords to *that* moment when Sephiroth plunged his sword into Aeris and the white materia poignantly dropped to the ground. Not to mention the fact that it has Red XIII, who is one of the best RPG characters ever.
Why it’s the worst: Because the damn fanboys won’t shut up about it! I mean, the game couldn’t help its piss-poor localisation, but even if you take that out of the equation, look at it, people! There are square blocky characters, tedious mini-games and the main character is so ashamed of his loser past that he ends up taking on the memories of his best friend! Also, Square-Enix have turned the damn game into an entire franchise! We had to sit through the plotless mess that was Advent Children!
Final Fantasy VIII
Why it’s the best: Spanning a whopping four discs, FFVIII was all about packing as much content as possible into a game, including the very first Final Fantasy card game and a whole raft of quests that you might not even realise existed the first time around (like the invisible monkey). And after the lunky super deformed moments in FFVII, FFVIII took graphical presentation a lot more seriously right from its stunning opening movie. Plus it brought gunblades to the franchise, and despite the fact that the laws of physics are against them, they are cool fantasy weapons.
Why it’s the worst: I mean seriously, the only thing your characters can do on their own without junctioning a GF is attack? They’re too stupid to even use items without a summon monster in their head telling them how to do it? And what’s with the endlessly having to draw and stock magic from monsters? Not that you should ever use that magic, no, you should store it up and use it to enhance the stats of your six identikit characters, who differ only in their physical appearance and limit break attacks.
Final Fantasy IX
Why it’s the best: Final Fantasy IX summarises what Final Fantasy is all about. Awash with nostalgic nods to previous games, FFIX moves away from the sci-fi settings of the previous few titles to return to pure fantasy (aka advanced technology made of wood), all packaged up nicely into an attractive new world. Better still, after the moodiness of Cloud and Squall, Zidane’s upbeat attitude is a refreshing change, whilst the remainder of the cast manage to capture the full spectrum of emotions.
Why it’s the worst: The pacing of battles is much, much slower than that of the previous two titles, and it really shows. A lot of the time you’ll just be sitting around waiting for ATB gauges to fill rather than doing anything.
Final Fantasy X
Why it’s the best: As well as taking the graphics to the next level as the series moved to the PS2, FFX really hit the nail on the head as far as the battle system was concerned. Gone were unwieldy time bars; the new CTB system let you swap characters in and out of battle and even see the upcoming turn order so you could plan ahead. Together with a sphere grid that could either be straightforward or complex enough to allow advanced customisation, FFX never stopped being fun, and it even let you break the fabled 9999HP barrier.
Why it’s the worst: Putting aside how annoyingly immature Tidus can be, FFX was a bit too full of itself when it came to minigames. The chocobo race section was beyond painful, but even that paled in comparison to the need to dodge 200 consecutive lightning strikes to earn a powerup for Lulu. Then there was the near endless list of super-powered boss monsters who required days and days of grinding before you could even hope to last a turn against them. Not to mention one of the most painful boss battles ever in the form of Seymour Flux.
Final Fantasy XI
Final Fantasy XII
Why it’s the best: The game is set an expansive world filled with massive and immersive areas that make you feel like you’re actually there. Plus the game has plenty of cute girls, including one with bunny ears.
Why it’s the worst: The attempt at a brand new real-time type battle system was a bad decision on Square-Enix’s part. In the old days, you selected Attack once your turn was up, and your character did an attack, end of story. Now you select attack and your character is connected to the enemy by a blue line which indicates that they eventually will attack. It’s real time with all the waiting of turn based and none of the fun of either.
Final Fantasy XIII
Why it’s the best: No expense has been spared in the presentation and aesthetics of the game. The girls are hot, Lightning is awesome (especially when she’s riding Odin’s horse) and Sazh has a chocobo chick that lives in his hair.
Why it’s the worst: The linearity of this game is beyond belief; in fact, it’s equivalent to running down a corridor for two days straight. Not to mention the fact that battle system leaves you feeling even more disconnected from the action than FFXII did. Sure, your characters may be flipping and jumping all over the place, but all you’re doing is selecting Auto-Battle every turn (or spending far too much time selecting individual moves before deciding Auto-Battle is less painful). All you do is direct the action by doing Paradigm Shifts; it’s the gaming equivalent of being the characters’ line manager. Also, Hope is really, really annoying.